Saudi Arabia has completed the process for acceding to the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), and the treaty will come into force with respect to Saudi Arabia on 3 August 2013.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia has also acceded to the Patent Law Treaty (PLT), and this will come into force on the same date, 3 August 2013. Saudi Arabia joins the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE as members of the PCT, with Kuwait being the only GCC state which has not yet joined the PCT. Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia are also now members of the PLT.

Impact on patent filings in Saudi Arabia

As the largest economy in the GCC bloc (in terms of both population and GDP), Saudi Arabia is often a key focus for those seeking to establish patent rights in the region.

Now that Saudi Arabia will feature on the PCT designated countries list, patent filers are likely to opt for the extended period in which to enter the costly national filing phase. As a result, the numbers of direct patent filings to Saudi Arabia is expected to increase.

As further positive news for those filing patents in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Patent Office has been undertaking a review of its internal processes concurrently with its accession to the PCT and PLT. This review has been extensive and time consuming (the legislative framework necessary for acceding to the PCT and PLT was implemented in December 2009 through Royal Decree No. M/63, and it has since taken three years for Saudi Arabia to be in a position to complete the accession process). However, the result of this review has been positive, with the implementation of an electronic filing system, which should make the patent process in Saudi Arabia significantly more efficient.

Impact on patent filing strategies for the GCC

Historically, many rights owners have sought to obtain protection for their technology in Saudi Arabia by filing for patents with the GCC Patent Office. Ostensibly, a GCC patent provides rights across all six GCC member states, including Saudi Arabia.

The GCC Patent Law and accompanying Regulations were introduced in 1992, with the GCC Patent Office becoming operational in 1998. The GCC Patent Law operates on the premise that patents granted by the GCC Patent Office apply in all GCC states, with enforcement of GCC patents being the responsibility of each individual GCC state.

Although Saudi Arabia has implemented legislation ratifying the GCC Patent Law, this legislation stops short of providing any more detail as to how patents granted by the GCC Patent Office take effect in Saudi Arabia. In contrast to the system envisaged by the GCC Patent Law, the ratifying legislation in Saudi Arabia does not deal with the enforcement of GCC patents. As a result, there is no clear regime for enforcing patents granted by the GCC Patent Office in Saudi Arabia.

It is also important to note that the GCC patent system operates outside the PCT, and filings are accepted in accordance with a 12 month priority period provided for under the GCC Patent Law.

Accordingly, with a more favourable priority period being available through the PCT, and with a question mark over the enforcement of GCC patents, it is expected that rights owners will look increasingly towards filing patent applications direct in Saudi Arabia and other GCC states, rather than using the GCC patent system.